Smart thermometers brought to 350 New York City areas schools to help track, stop COVID-19 infections

Kinsa thermometer and app
Kinsa thermometer and app tracking a child’s symptoms and displaying advice. Photo by Kinsa

Public schools across New York City reopened on Jan. 3, despite concerns from parents and guardians regarding the dramatic spike in new COVID-19 cases. However, a revolutionary medical tool called Kinsa may be able to help communities and schools identify coronavirus infections and act quickly in order to avoid widespread transmission.

Kinsa is an early warning healthcare system that utilizes “smart thermometers” to track the spread of influenza-like illnesses and detect contagious individuals by means of tracking fevers and anonymously recording data. This data is then used by Kinsa to see when and where potential illness hotspots arise so that healthcare officials can act accordingly to minimize the spread of viruses.

“Kinsa was founded a decade ago with a mission,” said Kinsa’s Vice President of Communication, Nita Nehru, in a Jan. 4 interview. “Our mission has always been to help curb the spread of infectious illness through earlier detection and earlier response.” 

The company has partnered with Lysol to bring 100,000 of the smart thermometers to nearly 350 schools in the New York City area.  The devices are free and accessible for families who opt to use them, and are also used in efforts to disinfect schools.

Along with the thermometers, the Kinsa app provides caregivers with instructions on how to treat illness, allows users to upload their symptoms and alerts individuals when it is necessary to seek professional medical care.

Some parents and caregivers may be apprehensive about using a device that logs health related data, but the information recorded remains anonymous. The priority is to track and prevent the spread of illness all without sacrificing the individual’s privacy.

“What Kinsa does is aggregate anonymous data, so we don’t care about an individual’s personal data, but we do care about how fast symptoms are starting and spreading in a particular geographic area, like New York City.” said Nehru. 

Kinsa was initially founded a decade ago by Inder Singh, a public health official, out of a frustration of how the world allocates resources to stopping the spread of illnesses. Before, infectious illnesses were recorded and observed with very little real-time data on symptoms and where they are starting.

“The data Kinsa collects is verified to see illnesses in real time, accurately reflecting CDC reporting weeks in advance, since Kinsa sees fevers and symptoms the minute someone takes their temperature when they feel ill,” said spokesperson Kristen Marion in an email. “Also to note, the public can see Kinsa’s data in action to see their local health situation by visiting http://www.healthweather.us/.” 

With infectious diseases “it always feels like we are playing catch up rather than being proactive,” said Nehru.

“So the purpose of Kinsa was always to help get what we call ‘the missing ingredient’ data needed to curb outbreak; real time medically accurate data from someone who has just fallen ill before they have to see a doctor and have probably already spread illness,” she added.